Chef Brendan McGill, owner of Hitchcock, opened this large pizzeria unsure if they’d be able to fill all 90 seats every night. Instead, the excellent food has brought them a near-constant one-hour wait.
It appears that all of Bainbridge is making a beeline for Bruciato. Since late January, chef Brendan McGill’s pizzeria has been the happening place in Winslow. Three months in, even on a Tuesday night, very few seats stayed empty for long. The ebb and flow of customers was constant.
No matter how you slice it — and here you do it yourself with scissors — pizza is a huge draw. Few foods arouse so much passion among so many, and these pies are definitely worth all the fuss. Not only that, they’re worth a ferry ride.
McGill and pizzaiolo Brando Thompson have been whetting Winslow’s appetite for pizza since 2010, when Bruciato began as an intermittent pop-up to fill Monday nights at Hitchcock, McGill’s flagship restaurant down the block.
236 Winslow Way E., Winslow, Bainbridge Island
Reservations: not accepted
Hours: noon-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday; noon-midnight Friday and Saturday
Prices: $$ (pizza $11-$20; antipasti and small plates $6-$16)
Drinks: full bar featuring aperitivi, grappe and amari; all-Italian wine list; Peroni on tap
Service: friendly young staff on a learning curve
Parking: on street
Sound: loud, but not unbearably so
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
They make the dough by hand even though on a weekend night upward of 300 pies emerge from Bruciato’s domed, wood-fired oven. To meet that demand and still ensure a three-day fermentation, they maintain an inventory of about 1,000 dough balls. That lengthy fermentation, as well as a wild yeast starter the chefs have been nurturing for years, contributes flavor and gentle crunch to the crust.
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The 12- to 14-inch pies are in the thin, Neapolitan style, their blistered borders moderately puffed up, their floppy centers occupying a magical middle ground between soggy and cracker-crisp. The taste of char is more of a hint than a hammer.
The crust sets these pies apart, but so do the toppings. They range from the expected (onion, sausage, prosciutto) to the unexpected (dates, potatoes, bone marrow) and they are deliberately scant.
You may not get basil in every bite of the Margherita, but you’ll smell those fresh leaves. Same with the fennel wafting from the crumbled pork sausage that joins smoked provola and bitter kale rapini on another pie. Both of those pizzas start with a bright base coat of pomodoro sauce that’s neither too sweet nor too acidic.
Some of the adornments — like the duck egg and crispy strips of cured Mangalitsa pork belly on the pancetta pie — are from McGill’s Bainbridge Island farm. Nash Organics provided the stinging nettles that became a grassy blanket for taggiasca olives and molten pools of ricotta to lounge on.
Lemon perfumed that nettle pie, as well as a light and lovely vongole pizza covered with what tasted like pulverized white clam sauce, finished with grated grana padano.
Pizza is not all Bruciato has to offer. Bountiful salads are among the antipasti, but if you want a side of vegetables, I’d suggest the roasted assortment called “Contorno.” Cauliflower, baby broccoli and cabbage nearly overflowed their small casuela; anchovy and fried capers boosted an already vibrant salsa verde.
The hearth is also used to cook polpettine, a quartet of pork and beef meatballs so light it seems the only thing keeping them grounded in their pomodoro sauce is a dusting of grana padana. Polpo (octopus) braises for hours in red wine and aromatics. When it’s pleasantly al dente, it’s cut into rounds and served with garbanzo beans stewed in the braising liquid. They give you a spoon for this soupy dish, but what you really want is bread. Ask and you shall receive hot-from-the-oven flatbread made from the same dough as the pizza.
Bruciato’s permanent home is in a prominent building on the town’s main drag that for many decades housed Winslow Hardware. The 2,000-square-foot space comfortably accommodates a crowd under the exposed rafters and beams of its peaked ceiling. McGill thought they’d have too much room, that maybe they’d have to book live bands or stage special events to fill 90 seats every night. Instead they’re dealing with one-hour waitlists.
The interior celebrates local artisanship as much as the menu does. The design, by Bainbridge architect (and Olson Kundig alum) Les Eerkes, maximizes conviviality. The broad Douglas fir tabletops were milled at Edensaw Woods in Port Townsend. They line up along bench seating spaced far enough apart that you don’t feel cramped. A single communal table in the front seats 16 comfortably, 20 if they squeeze.
The 15-seat bar is inlaid with chevron-patterned marble tiles. There, and at a parallel row of high-tops, you’ll see patrons sipping excellent Negronis and snacking on big bowls of olives served with flatbread (a steal at $6). You’ll see couples scissoring through a shared pizza and splitting a bottle of vino from the all-Italian list.
The bar’s far end extends past the kitchen’s garde manger station and terminates at a huge red-meat slicer. It’s in near-constant operation shaving 18-month-old San Daniele prosciutto for an antipasto in which the rosy ham wreaths “giardiniera” composed of lightly pickled, oil-drizzled cauliflower, celery and carrot. While all the other salumi used here is made in-house, largely from McGill’s own hogs, the demand for what he calls “prosciutto pizza crudo” has far outstripped what he can produce.
At the table next to me one recent night, a woman celebrated her birthday with friends. After she blew out the candle propped next to her tiramisu (flavored with Marsala and not as creamy as I prefer), I overheard her tell the server, “This is our first visit. We were waiting for things to settle down a bit.”
I doubt that will happen anytime soon.